The Blyth Festival is called the cradle of Canadian plays for good reason. Hometown is the 112th premiere in the festival's 37-year history.
The play is a departure for Blyth. Rather than being a story unto itself, Hometown is made up of six short plays by writers who cover the country and both official languages.
The idea was conceived, dramaturged and structured by Peter Smith, who is also Hometown's director. Smith's premise is to explore the concept of what a hometown is, and what the word means to different writers.
Smith is a past artistic director of Blyth and during his tenure in the 1990s, he tended to push buttons. Hometown also pushes buttons.
Rather than having a neat division between the plays, in the first act in particular they are broken into sections. One sequence from one play is followed by a scene from another, which may run into a third play, and then back again.
The throughline of Hometown is the utterly charming Thea by Saskatoon's Mansel Robinson. The solo monologue traverses the entire play, and is also the final scene. Thea is a teenager of today who blogs and tweets. Anyone over 30 is old. She is taking a long train trip with her unseen, rootless mother who is dragging Thea back to the town of her grandparents. It is a reaction to Thea's father who has started a new family with a new wife.
How the male Robinson is able to get into the mind and language of a female teenager is just delicious. And remember the name Kira Guloien, the actress who plays Thea. She is still a student at Ryerson, but this red-headed beauty has a fabulous career ahead of her.
The other plays are about the writers' hometowns, and each is very different in style and structure from the other.
Des Walsh's New Bonaventure, Newfoundland uses poetic language and interlocking monologues to describe the impact of the sea of three members of one family. Its stand-and-deliver storytelling has strength and power.
The focus of I'll Be Home for Christmas by Montreal's Jean Marc Dalpé is an interesting portrayal of identity crisis. On one side of a Christmas tree, the child Louis's mother is packing up their belongings to join her husband in the Alberta oil fields.
On the other side, the adult Louis is reluctantly facing the prospect of Christmas in Edmonton. Through the interplay of the two scenes, we see the damage caused by this move. Louis lost his French-Canadian heritage to an English-speaking education, and has had to rebuild it from scratch.
Things to Remember by Edmonton's Mieko Ouchi is a beautiful play set in Alberta in 1904. The story is about two young brothers who discover hidden secrets about their elderly, widowed father.
The structure is based on a list of maxims that the boys have had to memorize, such as "the worth of character," "the power of kindness" and "the virtue of patience." Each of the truths cleverly comes into play as their father's story unfolds.
With The Bog, Burnaby, B.C., actress/playwright Martha Ross has crafted a work of whimsical expressionism. A woman tells the story of her hometown in fanciful detail, but there is a truth detective to keep making reality checks. Lines between truth and fiction become blurred.
Finally, A Way to the Stars is Peter Smith's own poignant play about growing up in Barrie, Ont. The focus is on the escapades of two best friends that begins with the walk on the moon in 1969. This play, like Thea, is performed in episodes.
The acting company, Ryan Bondy, Marion Day, Tony Munch, Phil Poirier and the aforementioned Guloien, is strong, although Munch stumbled a few times in line delivery. They have to play a multiplicity of roles and ages in Hometown, and Smith has directed with strong character detail.
Hometown certainly kept my interest until the end because of its unpredictability, always a good theatrical characteristic.
- Directed by Peter Smith
- Written by the Hometown Collective
- Featuring Ryan Bondy, Marion Day, Tony Munch, Phil Poirier and Kira Guloien (with musician David Archibald)
- At Blyth Memorial Hall in Blyth, Ont.
Hometown continues at the Blyth Festival until Aug. 7.